Sunday, 5 May 2013

Day 49: Pascha Sunday - Christ is Risen! Christos Anesti! Χριστός Ανέστη! May 5, 2013

Christ is Risen!  Χριστός  Ανέστη!
Source of image:

As our Greek Orthodox family gathered at church last night to proclaim that He is Truly Risen, we also announced the end of the Great Fast of this Lenten season.  After church, we enjoyed our mageritsa (see our entry from last year), we played the egg-cracking game, and we got to sleep so we could have the energy to spend our Sunday with family, friends, and new friends celebrating this Glorious day.

Cousin B, as you read yesterday, had invited us to share in the roasted lamb feast at his house.  Of course, we were fascinated with learning how to tie up the lamb, and we were excited in the prospect of eating the said lamb.  Well, today was the day.  Today, with the weather being a comfortably warm 21° C (70° F), it was perfect weather to have a barbecue in Toronto, Canada.  Family and friends gathered and stood in awe of the roasting  lamb.  And, with Cousin B's father-in-law being a traditionalist, we watched many of the men take turns rotate the handle of the spit at a certain rate to cook the lamb to perfection.  Yes, everyone who got near the grill had a turn (get it?-had a turn!)!

What we learned today was that turning the lamb by hand is a lot of work!  It is strenuous on the upper arm muscles.  Maybe that is why people take turns.  We also learned that the lamb must continuously move because it will burn in one place, and stay raw in others unless the heat is fully distributed across the animal.  Lastly, we learned that one 30-pound lamb (about 13.5 kg) will feed about 35 people (adults and children), and having a second lamb is a good idea -- because Greeks and non-Greeks DO eat differently.  So, if your crowd is mostly Greek, have a second lamb!  If not, well, you decide if you want leftovers or if you know any Greeks...

The fire was started with that pile of logs (see yesterday's entry), and then, the wood charcoal bricks went on the fire.  That made a long lasting fire.  We did, however, add more charcoal for the second lamb.  The lamb was suspended over the fire, using one of the three pole positions on the souvla (the skewer), and a lid was added to deflect heat onto the animal.  The lid is removed about half way through the cooking so that the various cooks could start basting the lamb.  The basting liquid was traditional Greek "ladorigani" (olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, salt) and was generously brushed all over the turning lamb from head to tail and back to the head.

After a couple of hours rotating over the charcoals, the lamb skin became crunchy and the inside was dripping juices all over the fire. The smell was incredible -- even several neighbours came by to say that they could smell the barbecue and were drawn there by the smell.  And, when the lamb was done cooking, everyone anxiously approached the grill, ready to eat.

The cooks checked for the doneness by poking a knife around the joints of the legs and shoulders, and the easier the knife went into the meat, the more done it was.  We also saw the meat pulling away from the bones, but all the wires and U-clamps did the job of holding the lamb snugly on the spit.  So, using that same knife and a pair of tongs, pieces of meat were nudged off the carcass and into the aluminum pan for serving.  Some  people were not going to wait for the pan to be carried to the serving table, and had samples delivered right to their hands!  Lucky tasters...   Everyone at Cousin B's house enjoyed the lamb, some with seconds, and thirds (throughout the day over 70 people partook of the two lambs - mostly family with a few neighbours and colleagues - and even a cycling coach with his wonderful wife).

One of the cooks cracked open the lamb's head and shared the brains with anyone who would taste.  We thought it was delicious -- like a peppery pate.  Who knew?

The lamb was moist and absolutely delicious - with crispy skin to boot!
When the lunch was over, there was nothing left on the bones.  The skeleton of the lamb was left suspended over the grill.  To us, that was an invitation to pick at the bones and find the little gems of meat tucked in between the bones.  Several family members and neighbours joined in that activity!  But, the lamb was gone.  Not just the first one, either -- both! Two lambs for about 70 people was just enough.  This was clearly a feast day!

Not much remains from the second lamb. They really were very tasty!

In celebrating this Feast Day, we did the feasting for the day.  It was a great day to announce and share in the joy of Christ's Resurrection.  We hope that you were able to celebrate in the glory of the day, and with a glorious day.

This marks the end of this year's Great Lent Gourmet entries. It has been a great honour to have shared our Great Lent experiences over the course of the past 49 days. We have had many thousands of visitors from over 75 countries from six continents. We genuinely appreciate the wonderful feedback from the new friends who have written us.

God bless you all!

The Great Lent Gourmet team.

YouTube - Christos Santikai (Greece) - Christos anesti


Saturday, 4 May 2013

Day 48 - Holy Saturday - Megalo Savato - Getting Ready for Pascha - Preparing A Lamb for Cooking on a Spit - May 4, 2013

"He Don't Eat No Meat?" - My Big Fat Greek Wedding

It is Saturday of Holy Week.  We want to start with Kali Anastasi (Happy Resurrection of our Lord) to those who also celebrate Orthodox Easter.  We are starting preparations for tomorrow (Easter Sunday), as are many families.  Like ours, many other families who start preparing the Easter Feast from Saturday.

Actually, we probably started on Wednesday night after church, when we first made our Tsoureki.  Then, Thursday (or Saturday for some) we dyed the red eggs.  Thursday we also made our pites (pies) and started to pull out our serving dishes for various foods.  We don't do any preparations on Friday because... well, because it is Holy and Good Friday, and that is just not right.  So, Saturday comes and we scurry to get as much done as we can.  One of the things that we cannot rush, and we cannot put off is getting the lamb ready for the souvla (the barbecue spit) .  This year, we were lucky enough to have a good cousin to help us with this process.  Cousin invited his father, father-in-law, and brother-in-law to join in the fun so that we had our hands free for photography.  We wanted to find the best way to explain how to put the lamb on the souvla (the spit), season and tie it so that tomorrow, as it is cooking, you will know that the amount of work preparing the feast was so well worth it!

The first ting is that this is an art form.  There are millions of people doing this same task, and we can safely guess that there are a million and one ways to do it the "right" way.  Here are some links to YouTube videos on how some "Souvla Artistes" do their thing (here, here and here).

Different parts of Greece will have different seasonings, where different households will have different tools and methods.  It just depends who you are with and what they like.  We even know some people who will use all the same seasonings that we do, they tie the animal the same way, but they don't use a lamb -- they choose goat instead.  So, you don't have to follow these exact steps; nor do you have to use a lamb!

First, buy the lamb.  Most butcher stores around our house are aware of the Orthodox calendar, and know that they can get a good market on lambs this week.  So, we did a little comparison shopping.  The five stores that we checked all had similar pricing, with a $20 spread.  For one 36-pound lamb, fully cleaned, we paid about $200.00 CDN.  That may sound like a lot of money, but when you expect to feed 20 to 25 people off one animal, the price really comes down a lot.  Everyone who comes is to bring a side dish or dessert.  So, we don't really know what else will show up on the table, we just know that we are going to have lamb, and enjoy savouring the animal that we have not had since March.

So, with few words, here are the photographs which we took today. We would love to thank our cousin B., his father, his father-in law and his brother-in-law for giving allowing us to observe and record today's preparations. We not only appreciate their generosity but we also hope that today's entry will inspire some of our many readers (today we had over 300 from about 40 countries all around the world) to venture out and plan on roasting their own lamb on a spit next year.

This is a custom-made 5 foot long (1.5 m) stainless steel spit ordered from Montreal, Canada. The sand in the bottom prevents flare-ups.
No motorized skewer for our cousin. He's lucky to have a father-in-law who insists on turning it entirely by hand. That way, the lamb is guaranteed to be beautifully cooked, not burned!
Small branches are used in the bottom to create the first embers... 
...followed by larger, very dry thicker branches.

The tools were ready from the last time the souvla was used. The lemons, freshly cut and the spices were measured yesterday evening.
From top left to right (garlic powder, black pepper, salt)
Bottom row left to right (chopped fresh garlic, Greek oregano, paprika)
The star of tomorrow's dinner is about 30 lbs (about 12 kg). It is fresh, Ontario-grown lamb.
The organs are removed. The intenstines were already removed by the butcher.
The lamb is put on its side.  The food stamp on the right shoulder is food-grade, usually made of a vegetable-based dye.
The skewer is pushed from the back of the lamb towards the front.

The big U-Clamp is pushed and secured into the hind of the animal. 
Another U-Clamp is pushed and secured in  from the back of the lamb.

Altogether, 6 U-Clamps have been used. Now, stainless steel wire is used to keep everything secure.
The U-Clamps as seen from the inside of the body cavity.

The very first step is to apply a generous amount of freshly squeezed lemons into the inside of the cavity. The lemon juice adheres to the walls of the inside of the lamb. The lemon juice also holds onto the spices, allowing for a nicely coated inside surface. After the lemons are squeezed, they are left inside the lamb.  In this photograph, the garlic  powder is being added to the other spices that were placed earlier.
The squeezed lemons are left inside and the spices have covered the lamb's interior.
Next, the stainless steel wire is used to close the front of the lamb, with all the spices and lemons left inside.

The final 'suture' is closing the lamb totally shut.

About 6 complete lemons cut in half  are squeezed all over the outside, top of the lamb and bottom.
Salt is applied to the outside (top and bottom)... is black pepper and... 
...paprika, ....
...and fragrant Greek oregano. 
The spices are patted and rubbed into the skin to stick onto the skin well.
All the spices are in place. Now, for the...
...cloves of garlic which are pushed under the skin where a sharp knife has made holes throughout the lamb.

After the garlic pieces have bee placed inside the lamb's flesh, new, food-grade plastic bags (which came from the butcher) are put over the lamb.
The first of our two lambs (two will be cooked tomorrow) is ready to be put into our cousin's walk-in cold storage. Wow, we wish we had one of those!
So, that's all for now, folks. Tomorrow we hope to show you the final product. We just can't wait!

We are now going to get ready for an afternoon rest, followed by our preparation for the Resurrection Liturgy that will take place tonight.

Kali Anastasi !

The Holy Fire and Pascha at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

Friday, 3 May 2013

Day 47: Octopus with Roasted Potatoes, Tomatoes and Herbs; Htapodi me patates, domates kai myrodika, May 4, 2013

We had so much fun making octopus the other day, and we thought it was quite successful, we wanted to do it again, but a little differently this time.  When we are looking for new ideas of what to do with a dish, we usually start reading some of the classic cookbooks.  Today's recipe for Octopus with Potatoes is from a classic cook -- Vefa Alexiadou and the book Vefa's Kitchen.  Vefa has taught us several things over the years, and since a wonderful Koumbara from my home town gave us this book when we baptised her son, we are thrilled to use it in her honour.  We enjoy reading Vefa's instructions and are fascinated at some of the combinations of food that she uses.

Baked octopus is something we have not heard of before reading this recipe.  We have heard of boiled, grilled, broiled, fried, stewed, braised, but not baked.  How can you bake octopus -- wouldn't it get too dry and chewy?  Well, that's what we thought originally, but boy, were we wrong!  Surprisingly, baking the octopus really worked!  So, what is the secret?  Well, we will give you our version of the recipe and you decide how it works.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

1 octopus, cleaned (see instructions from a previous post)
4 pounds (about 2kg) potatoes
3/4 cup oil
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 TBSP dry oregano (we always use Greek oregano as it is very full flavoured)
salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice, as needed
water, as needed

We will start with the easy step... preheat the oven to 350° F (about 175º C).  You want to turn it on so it is fully at temperature when you put the octopus in there.  That way, the octopus does not have the chance to get spongy.  And truthfully, preparing everything before the dish goes in the oven will not take you more than 15 or 20 minutes.  That is just enough time for the oven to fully heat.

You can peel the potatoes if you like, but you do not need to. Just make sure that they are scrubbed well.  Cut the potatoes into wedges.  Put the potatoes in a dry baking dish or dry roasting pan.  Do not put oil or anything in the pan, that will come later.  Just a clean dry pan or dish and the potatoes.

Next, cut the octopus into large one or two bite sized pieces.  We used kitchen shears to cut the raw octopus.  It was very easy to use the shears to get in between the legs and through the thicker body.  You can use a knife, but the scissors are easier.  Cut the pieces of octopus and lay them on top of the potatoes in the baking dish or roasting pan.  Once again, do not add anything else to the roasting pan -- it should have only potatoes and octopus at this point.

Now, set this aside for a few minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.

Peel the garlic and slice it into thin slices.  You have the option to chop it, but you want the garlic to stand up to the cooking process without becoming unidentifiable mush in the pan.  Thin slices will look nice and impart enough flavour of garlic to hold up to the potatoes.

Cut the tomatoes, too.  Cut them into a small dice.  We believe that you could use canned tomatoes -- about 1 cup with the juice, but if you have fresh tomatoes, they are lighter than canned, and sometimes more flavourful.

Now, heat the oil in a frying pan or sauce pan.  It seems like a lot of oil, but it is going to work in this recipe more than just frying the garlic and tomato.  It will get poured into the baking dish, so do not skimp on the amount of oil.

Heat the oil and add the garlic.  Cook the garlic until it is just fragrant.  This will take about 3 minutes.  Then, add the tomatoes and the oregano.

Cook the garlic and tomatoes until the tomatoes start to break down and become soft. They change colour a little bit, and look like they are turning mushy.  If you look closely at the photo below (5th one), it appears as if we have more liquid in the pan than the amount with which we started.  That increase in liquid is the tomatoes cooking and breaking down, which is how you know that this mixture has cooked long enough.  Remove the pan from the heat.

Sprinkle salt and pepper and lemon juice on the octopus and potatoes in the baking pan.  Then, carefully spoon the tomato/garlic mixture over the octopus.  Cover as much of the surface as you can.  We say to do this carefully because the tomatoes and garlic are still hot, and the oil is hot.

Cover as much of the octopus/potato as you can with the tomato/garlic mixture.

Pour water into the pan to create enough liquid so the potatoes do not dry out.  The amount of water should come up to half the height of the side of the baking dish (see the bottom photo).  If you have a deep baking dish, then bring the water level up to barely touch the top of the potato layer.  You can add more water  if you need to while the pan is in the oven.

Then, put the baking pan in the oven and let this cook for 2 hours.  That sounds like a long time, but it is reasonable for this dish.  You are slow roasting the potatoes and the octopus, and to slow roast means that it takes a long time.  Our dish cooked in 1 hour 47 minutes.  That was the point when we could put a fork through the octopus without applying too much pressure, and the potatoes were soft and velvety without being mushy.  The top of the dish turned a brownish hue and looked like it was done.

Take the baking dish out of the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes.  Then, serve each person with a slice of lemon, or a sprinkling of lemon juice to really enhance all the flavours in this dish.

This was a nice dish to serve at the table. Each piece of octopus and scoop of potatoes was enough to serve four people as a main course.  That seemed reasonable.  We served it with a salad, some peas, and some crusty bread to pick up all the lemony, tomato-ey juice from the octopus and potatoes.  These were all flavours and textures that "just worked together" and made a really nice dinner.  We still believe that making octopus is impressive for company, but we are finding that it is not as much work as we once thought!  Hopefully, you will find that to be true, too!

This dish contains the small amount of food left over after four of us ate a very hearty amount. Even the next day, the potatoes, sauce and octopus were a lovely Lenten dish that we accompanied with a squeeze of lemon and some wild greens.

The following two outstanding videos highlight the beauty of Holy Friday's Hymns. The first is by the outstanding Fr. Nikodimos Καβαρνό (Kavarnos) and the second is performed by musicians led by the arranger/conductor/composer Stamatis Spanoudakis and chanted by thousands of the audience in attendance. For additional videos chanted by Fr. Kavarnos, please visit his YouTube channel

Αι Γενεαί Πασαι - Ω Γλυκύ μου έαρ - εγκώμια της Παναγίας
Αι Γενεαί Πάσαι - Ω Γλυκή Μου Έαρ... απο τον π. Νικόδημος Καβαρνό 
egkwmia Panagias eggomia
I.N. Μεταμορφώσεως Μοσχατου 2005 

My sweet Lord (O Gliki mou Ear ) Live Peania 1994
Clarinet: Vassilis Saleas
Violin: Lefteris Zervas
Religious. Arrangement: Stamatis Spanoudakis
by Stam Studio